Date of Award

Spring 5-2012

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Eric E. Peterson

Second Committee Member

John C. Sherblom

Third Committee Member

Michael J. Socolow

Abstract

Internet technologies and the growth in online social networking promote the idea that professional athletes are accessible and that sports fans can relate to them as if they were friends. This increased accessibility serves as a means for various kinds of relational development between professional athletes and their fans. Fans are offered an insider perspective into the everyday lives of athletes through status updates, through invitations to respond to posts, and through uploaded photos and videos. This study investigates the types of interactions fostered by online social networking with an emphasis on perceived two-way relationships among media figures and fans in computer-mediated communication. Specifically, I analyze relational interactions among fans and professional football player Chad Ochocinco on the online social networking platform Facebook. Parasocial interaction and synthetic personalization serve as the theories of mediated communication that guide this study. The interactions among fans and a sports media figure constitute the lived phenomena under investigation in this study. I analyze fan responses to Facebook posts made by Chad Ochocinco in order to examine the ways in which online social networking fosters interactions. I selected 287 fan comments for analysis following 16 posts made by Ochocinco over a five day period in August 2011; twelve fan comments are examined in my analysis. In order to describe the variability in the kinds of interactions that occur I draw upon the discourse analysis methods of James Paul Gee and Norman Fairclough. In my analysis I discuss how the specific language-in-use within fan commentary constructs different kinds of relationships through discourse of affect, fandom and identification strategies, responsiveness, and invitations for interaction amongst fans and Chad Ochocinco. Interactions analyzed through the communicative lens of parasocial interaction and synthetic personalization reveal that fans are able to construct their communications as more than parasocial or synthetic - interactions can reflect behaviors of actual social interaction within fan commentary. I suggest that not all fans use Facebook the same way; therefore, a mediated theory that encompasses the variety of relational interactions that can potentially occur within online social networks must be conceptualized in order to better illustrate how the medium fosters the development of relationships through mediated communication.

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